In my relentless search for places to escape the cold, I found Mexico. A refuge from the polar vortexes of the U.S. and a paddler’s paradise. The whitewater is so diverse that you need multiple river craft to enjoy it all! But we only had our SUPs.
The headwaters of the Santa Maria River lie in the semi-desert region between the states of Queretaro and San Luis Potosi. Flowing 150 miles from the Gulf of Mexico where it converges with multiple rivers, and finally meets the salt water. The Santa Maria has no dams and all 150 miles are excellent runnable whitewater. Five canyons, miles of class IV-V big water and a 315-foot waterfall from the Rio Gallinas make this a multi-day paddlers dream!
We recently did the most upper stretch of Santa Maria on SUP boards. The upper stretch is a 12-mile scenic canyon float with one class IV rapid. Our plan was to put on in the afternoon and camp beside the class IV. Put-ins in Mexico are sometimes an adventure in itself. This particular part of the river is a favorite watering hole for local cattle.
Heather and I paddled the Czar 6 and Baron 6 SUPs. The extra flotation of the six-inch thick boards comes in handy when carrying camping gear and food. I carried the mosquito net, hammock, rain fly, a jet boil stove and a K-pump. Heather packed the extra clothes, water filter and head lamps.
The first day of paddling equaled to a little more than an hour. We found a nice spot on an island just beside the portage. One of the amazing things about inflatable paddleboards is how comfortable they are to sleep on. Let out half the air and you have a huge therma-rest bed. (The Baron 6 sleeps two—if you’re friendly.)
To avoid any bug encounters during the night, I strung our hammock loosely over the board. This hammock has mosquito netting built in and also comes with a nice rain-fly. It looked like rain, so we used the fly as well.
After a good night’s sleep, we re-inflated the board, took a nice river shower, and launched for the next eight-and-a-half miles of class II. A portion of the old Spanish Silver Train, an improvised trail used in the 16th and 17th centuries to run silver from Peru to Panama, runs along the river’s right side. Huge Sabino trees, over 500 years old, lined the river banks. The Sabino tree has one of the most impressive root systems I’ve ever seen, creating incredible erosion protection. As their roots grow and intertwine they become an unbreakable shoreline.
As we moved farther into the canyon, the riverbed became very sandy. If you’re just learning to SUP, the sand offers cushioning for the inevitable falls. There are numerous springs that enter the river as waterfalls descend on river left. I counted at least five, and all were quite a bit warmer than the actual river water. As you can imagine, they are also full of incredible vegetation.
This section of the Santa Maria passes through the historic town of Conca, Queretaro, where a Franciscan mission was built in the 1700s. There are four more, nearly identical, missions throughout the region. At one point the river banks to the right and you can turn and see the Conca mission. It’s just visible in front of Heather above the first row of trees.
If you are looking for new ways to enjoy and explore using a paddle board, I highly recommend this overnight trip. SUPs are the true SUV of paddle sports. With the right board and dry equipment the experience is stress-free and much easier than I ever thought possible. It’s your own personal watercraft and bed rolled into one. Make sure the run isn’t too difficult, because the weight of your gear does affect how the board handles. I found that by moving back towards the tail balances things out and makes for a great workout too.
I know it’s still cold in the States right now, so roll up those boards, grab some friends and head down to Mexico and see us. Water temps are in the 70s and there are plenty of enchiladas to share.